The practice of corporal punishment reared its head once again in Tamil Nadu last month at a government school in Gingee. A teacher was suspended from duty for having allegedly caned over 50 students in a brutal manner. About 100 people, including parents, protested against the beating at the headmaster’s office, and demanded action against the teacher. Following the Collector’s orders, the Chief Educational Officer suspended the teacher.
It was in 2007 that corporal punishment was banned in schools in Tamil Nadu. The DMK government which was then in power had scrapped Rule 51 of the Tamil Nadu Educational Rules Act, which permitted such penalties for students. Rule 51 stated that, “Corporal punishment shall not be inflicted, except in a case of moral delinquency such as deliberate lying, obscenity of word or act or flagrant insubordination. It shall be limited to six cuts on the hand and administered only by or under the supervision of the headmaster.’’
Despite amendments to the rule carried out in 2003, students still reported physical and mental torture on account of some teachers, which became the impetus for scrapping the law. Since then, numerous episodes of corporal punishment being meted out to students have been reported in the media. In 2017, four female school students in Panapakkam, Ranipet committed suicide by jumping into a well after their teacher punished them for bad behaviour and asked them to bring their parents to school. The teacher and headmistress of the school were suspended but not arrested. Later in 2019, a maths teacher at a government school in Alangariyur panchayat in Erode, was suspended for hitting his students with a geometric scale for failing to complete homework assigned to them.
While representatives of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights say that suspended teachers are punishable under Section 75 of the Juvenile Justice Act, legal experts had said back in 2007 itself that there were no rules to deal with educators who had run afoul of the law. In March 2021, the Madras High Court quashed a criminal case booked against a physical education teacher, a headmaster and a school correspondent for allegedly causing the death of a student by subjecting him to duck waddling, after he came late to school. Despite the police booking the trio under Section 304 (causing death by negligence) of the IPC, the judge lamented that there was no specific law that had been enacted in India to prohibit and eradicate the cruel practice of corporal punishment.
The Principal Secretary to the School Education Department, Karkala Usha, recently brought to the notice of the education commissioner, and directors of primary education and matriculation schools, a few suggestions proposed at a meeting of the Tamil Nadu Child Rights Protection Commission, held in May. The guidelines were aimed at reforming recalcitrant students, not through penalties, but through positive reinforcement. Some of the suggestions include advising the students, in case of the first offence; and for repeated offences, directing them to write couplets from the Thirukkural along with their meanings, reciting moral stories or retelling the stories of historical leaders, being made class captain for a week, among other measures. The final solutions include the student meeting a Child Welfare Protection Officer attached to a police station or a change of school.
It goes without saying that a nuanced approach is necessary when it comes to dealing with school children of all ages. The formative school years in many ways lay the foundation for an individual’s evolution into a socially well-adjusted citizen. This makes it all the more important that the first impression remains the best impression as far as school life is concerned.